Credible Toastmaster: Empowering Roles

Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What you are, speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what you are saying.”

When you are a member of our club, how you handle yourself, carry yourself creates a perception about yourself.   This presence, this perception of you, can help you cultivate credibility with your audience even before you stand up and speak.

While our audience at toastmasters is our friends, cultivating this can go a long way when you work in teams at your school, college (when you will go there), and even your career beyond that.

So how do you develop that? Think of different roles at toastmaster, and engage in a meaningful way no matter what that is for a day.

Toastmaster runs the meeting from beginning to end. We rotate the role to different individuals throughout a quarter.

What does a toastmaster do?

  1. Plan the meeting. Communicate with different role players, budget meeting time, create an agenda for the meeting.
  2. Run the meeting as per the plan, make adjustments at the meeting as required.

In this blog post, I am going to focus on the 2nd part, since we have coaches bring the meeting agenda in most of the cases.

How to be a credible toastmaster?

  • Be there at the meeting 10 minutes early. The meeting is your show. To run it credibly, you need to be there mentally and emotionally. Feel the place. Those 10 minutes will do wonders for your presence at the start of the meeting.
  • Understand meeting sequence and time budget. Keep mental checkpoints for specific milestones and then they should start and end. We have limited time at meetings with a very packed schedule.
  • You have a lot of time to think when speakers speak, use that to stay engaged.
  • Keep a healthy energy level, use vocal variety in your comments to make everyone else in the room feel engaged and comfortable.
  • Again, the meeting is your show. Seize the reins. Act your part.
  • Be an excellent facilitator. Help everyone at the meeting.
  • Proactively, set, and manage expectations. If you are planning specific things, let others know to avoid surprises.
  • Use the meeting plan to follow through different steps, and keep the meeting flow going. Okay, and encouraged to have a little humor with your comments, at the same time helps to be crisp, so the session ends on time.
  • As always, have fun.

Read the description of the role in your Competent Communicator (CC) manual.

A Technique to Introduce Speakers

Speaker’s Name, Speech Title … Speech Title, Speaker’s Name

For example, Grishma, The Fight for Freedom … The Fight for Freedom, Grishma
(Grishma is a speaker in this example, and “The Fight for Freedom” is her speech title.)

Additional, optional ideas for more fun with the role of toastmaster

[Note: do this after you have done the role of toastmaster at least a couple of times. Talk to your coaches ahead of time, so they understand what you are planning as well.]


  1. Think of a theme for the meeting; it can be anything that you’d like. Examples to stir up juices on this … Harry Potter, movies, fiction books, sports, school, friendship, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, winter break, video games, theme parks, flowers, fruits, ice cream, vegetables, storytelling, etc.
  2. Work with table topics master maybe, and see if his or her table topics can use the theme as well. (Only table topics master gets to decide questions to ask, he or she can take the theme and develop questions in his or her way, of course).
  3. Let grammarian know about your theme, he or she can select a word of the day that might go with the theme. (Grammarian gets to decide the word on his or her own, of course.)
  4. Towards the beginning of the meeting, use 2-3 minutes to set the tone with your theme. Describe your perspective, context, the reasoning behind selecting the theme.
  5. During the meeting, if you see an opportunity to plug-in thoughts related to the theme with your comments, feel free to do that. Keep overall flow still crisp, though.
  6. At the end of the meeting, wrap it up, tying it back to your theme with closing comments as well.

When you run a meeting like this, you get more experience and flavor of staging and running a show with a specific theme.


  1. Take over meeting planning for the week when you are toastmaster.
  2. Send messages to different speakers to get their speech titles, speech time, etc.
  3. Communicate, coordinate with all in your club group.
  4. Set a meeting theme using IDEA ONE above.
  5. Prepare a meeting plan along with a time budget.
  6. Bring a printed meeting plan, and give it to everything.

When plan, coordinate, and communicate like this, you step into the role of leadership even more. It can do wonders to your communication, leadership, and teamwork skills.

It will make sense either do only the first idea, or the two ideas together.

How do you cultivate credibility as a grammarian?

Be a good listener. Monitor usage of the English language during the meeting – grammatical errors, and also creative and effective examples of language usage.

Emphasize the positives as much as the negatives, if not more. The role of a grammarian isn’t merely a fault-finding mission. Look for the proper, creative usage of English, specific words, and examples that might have appealed to you, etc. and acknowledge that.

Give a detailed report at the end – address comments for each person individually, directly. For example, “Today I noticed several good examples of creative language” doesn’t give much to anyone. If grammarian mentions in his/her report, “Riya I liked the way you used the metaphor of clouds for your concern with … it worked well for me”, then it is specific in detail, and also specific to address Riya directly.

The role of a grammarian is listening comprehension, attention to detail, critical thinking, and then delivering a meaningful report in 1-2 minutes. It can do wonders for your credibility as a communicator and member.

Save ah’s and um’s and filler words for the ah-counter. There is a separate role for that, no need for you to include that in your report.

General evaluator runs the evaluations part of the meeting:

  1. Introduces evaluators
  2. Requests timing report and voting for the Best Evaluator award
  3. Requests ah-counter report, grammarian report
  4. Gives his/her feedback on the meeting, may provide specific feedback/ideas to each evaluator – this should all be done in 2-3 minutes

How to be a credible general evaluator?

  • Think about all that we are trying to do with the theme of credibility – all different aspects of it, all four priorities.
  • Listen carefully, take notes.
  • If you had ideas, observations, points in your notes that weren’t covered in other evaluations and reports, use the opportunity to share them.
  • If you have specific feedback for any of the role players, bring it up. Again, keep it very specific, avoid general statements.
  • Think of evaluation speeches critically. If you thought of opportunities for feedback on specific objectives of a speech project, feel free to bring it up. (Now, this is a very comprehensive skill, you have to think about the objectives of every speech project. Do the best you can on this part. Still, an excellent idea to start thinking about it. It will do wonders to your communication capabilities.)
  • The general evaluation is your evaluation of the meeting. It is your opinion, your reaction. Use the speech evaluation techniques here as well, except that you are giving feedback to several individuals and not just one.

Coaches do a lot of this at our meetings. It is a good idea for members to start developing this.

Use CL manual projects to think of all different aspects of it. For example, ative listening, critical thinking, time management, facilitation, planning, encouraging others, etc.

Toastmasters meetings are planned to maximize opportunities for communication using all different roles. The timer helps make sure that meetings stay anchored to the timeline of the plan, and so we end the session on time.

Timing Signals for Speeches:

For a 5-7 minute speech:

  1. The green light at 5 min
  2. Yellow light at 6 min
  3. Red light at 7 min
  4. Timer raises a hand at 7:30 seconds, at that time speaker stops
  5. Thirty seconds of grace period to qualify for the voting. That is, if the speaker’s speech time is between 4.5 min and 7.5 min, he/she would be eligible for the vote.

If a speech is 8-10 minutes long, the green light at 8 min, yellow light at 9 min, red light at 10 min. The grace period would still be 30 seconds. So, if the speaker’s speech is between 7.5 min and 10.5 minutes, then he/she would qualify for the vote.

If a speech is 6-8 minutes long, the green light at 6  min, yellow light at 7  min, red light at 8  min. The grace period would still be 30 seconds. So, if the speaker’s speech is between 5.5 min and 8.5 minutes, then he/she would qualify for the vote.

Timing Signals for Table Topics:

  1. The green light at 1 min
  2. Yellow light at 1.5 min
  3. Red light at 2 min
  4. Fifteen seconds of grace time. So, if the table topic is between 45 seconds and 2 min, 15 seconds, the speaker qualifies for the vote.

Timing Signals for Evaluation:

  1. The green light at 2 min
  2. Yellow light at 2.5 min
  3. Red light at 3 min
  4. Fifteen seconds of grace time. So, if the evaluation is between 1 min, 45 seconds and 3 min, 15 seconds, the speaker (evaluator) qualifies for the vote.

  • Vote counter collects votes for the best table topics, best speaker, best evaluator awards, tallies them and declares the winner.
  • Vote counter doesn’t vote unless there is a tie. In case of a tie, the vote counter breaks the tie without letting anyone know about it.
  • Vote counter doesn’t share who got how many votes, not even with coaches. So, while there are winners of the awards, nobody knows by what margin except for the vote counter.

Each vote is that member’s opinion that remains private and anonymous. The ballot doesn’t have a member’s name on it.

Nobody tries to read anyone else’s ballot.

Ah-counter helps the group in tracking ah’s, um’s, and other filler words such as like, so, and so, or any other word that might come across as a filler word. With our club, ah-counter clicks when he or she thinks a particular said word was a filler word.

We don’t click during prepared speeches. We still keep track of filler words and provide that in the report. But we don’t click.

As an ah-counter:

  • Explain to fellow club members to uses pauses instead of trying to fill the space with filler words. Encourage all to get comfortable with the silence while speaking (using pauses).
  • Keep an ear for run-on sentences as well. If the speaker is connecting sentences using so, and so, and, or any other word click as well. In the ah-counter report, explain not to do run-on sentences.
  • Use clicker (click) when you think a particular word from the speaker was a filler word.
  • Prepare a brief statement to explain your role when prompted by the toastmaster.
  • In the end, give a detailed report for each person separately (number of ah’s, um’s, and filler words). You have 1-2 minutes to do that.

The role of ah counter is harder than it seems. You are actively engaged from beginning to end to count ah’s and um’s and other filler words, and also click. The role helps you cultivate active listening skills, one of the key components in learning how to communicate and work with others as a team.

The Table Topics master brings questions or prompts for impromptu speeches (table topics).

  • Think about your theme or overall direction to your table topics session. Take time to explain what you are going to do.
  • Explain a little bit about the table topics process: Time is 1-2 min with 30 seconds of grace time. Remind them to use the word for the day.
  • The theme for table topics can be whatever that you like, for example, friendship, Halloween, homework, sports, hobbies, vacations, movies, fiction, school locker room, back to school, video games, colors, summer, winter. The sky is the limit as to where you can take it.
  • Be innovative, creative in designing your table topics. Make table topics interesting for the group. Have fun with it.
  • Think of questions that are easy to relate to for the members. Speakers are learning how to think on their feet, stay in the moment, and develop a point.

Order of speakers for table topics:

  1. Members that don’t have a role for the meeting (that way they get an opportunity to speak that day)
  2. Vote Counter, Timer, Ah Counter, Grammarian, Toastmaster, General Evaluator
  3. Evaluators
  4. Speakers

At the end of your table topics session:

  • Ask for grammarian’s report for the usage of word of the day.
  • Ask the timer’s report.
  • All members that met time limits and used word for the day qualify for the best table topics speakers award. Announce that list to all, and invite voting.

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